Voice Card  -  Volume 23  -  John Card Number 7  -  Wed, Mar 4, 1992 12:57 PM

This is ONE OF 2 responses to VC 23 Janine 10 ("PBD Losers Club")...

Janine's PBD Loser's Club is striking a nerve with many of my friends. Betsy and I are both charter members. We stand together in the ever-growing throng, waving our forefingers like antlers while Janine bellows the haunting call of the Losers. Her Loser's Club is clearly an idea whose time has come!

The ranks of the wildly overqualified are swelling now as they never have before. And I think the reasons go beyond the current dire economy. For decades now America has been pouring swarms of over-educated workers into a job market that offers more and more menial minimum-wage jobs. Thus we have PhD burger flippers and polyglot bagboys.

I am not at all opposed to over-educating workers. We need more, not less, education. The problem is in the workplace. Most workplaces today are still oppressed by nineteenth century notions about class distinction. Too many workers are actually punished for showing any signs of intelligence.

Janine and Betsy and I are cases in point. All three of us are talented, bright, well-read and travelled, and yet we find ourselves consistently treated like naughty children. We are watched, told how to sit in our chairs, and reprimanded for being two minutes late to work. Ironically, our managers are often less intelligent than we are because the only people who rise to positions of authority are those too feeble-minded to rebel against institutionalized idiocies. Mid-level managers are the type who always got B-minuses in junior high; they never raised their hands to ask a question, but got a gold star for perfect attendance. Now they are in charge and take a special delight in clock-watching and "going by the book."

The problem is that many jobs are inherently dull, and yet SOMEONE has to do them. So how do we create a working environment that allows intelligent people to get the job done without going crazy? Sadly, no one in a position of power seems to be asking this question, much less trying to answer it.

The nineteenth century approach is to view workers as a kind of necessary evil. You pay just enough to attract warm bodies and then watch them closely. The result is that thoughtful workers become dull and complacent, honest workers become sneaky, and hard workers become lazy. If we are treated like children, sooner or later we begin to behave like children.

Currently, workers are allotted a brief lunch period (and even this is a concession that Dickensian managers would grumble about). The reason for this is simple: a hungry worker is a sloppy worker. The need for food simply cannot be ignored, even by the most ruthless of managers.

Why then do we try to ignore other human needs? We have a need to commune with our fellows. We have a need to search and learn and grow. We need a nest of some kind that we can retreat into. We need privacy. We need at least a modicum of self-determination. And sometimes we need sleep as well as food.

The nineteenth century response is that all of this is impractical and inefficient. The compromise has been to allow workers a life of their own after hours but to supress all but the most basic needs during the best hours of the day.

The more intelligent the worker, the more irksome this compromise becomes. And for the last few decades our "leisure time" has been decreasing dramatically. As a whole American workers now work longer than their parents did, often for less money. These things are hard to measure, but apparently we are more stressed than ever before. The quality of our lives is going down.

It doesn't have to be this way. Imagine a workplace with books everywhere, not manuals but real books: mystery novels, encyclopedias, poetry. Imagine a workplace that proudly displays the art of its workers and even provides studios and canvases and kilns. Imagine a workplace without the temporal iron bars of a clockpunch, a workplace that not only encourages but requires long lunches and afternoon siestas. Imagine a workplace run more like a team than an army.

Is such a workplace possible? Can we build a working economy with quality of life as the bottom line? If we do have to compromise, can we select different compromises than we're making now?

If we are, as I suggest, intelligent workers, can't we find some way of creating an intelligent workplace?